Saint Bishoy the Great is the founder of the monastery called after his name
in Wadi El-Natroun. His name is “Bishoy” in Coptic, the equivalent of
“Sammy,” meaning just. In French, his name is St. Paisious, and the church
mentions him in the liturgy as “The Perfect Man, the Beloved by our Good
Savior.” (al-ragol al-kamil habeeb mokhalisona al-saleh) He is also called
“The Star of the Wilderness” (kawkab el-barieah).
Our saint was born 320 A.D. around the Nile’s Delta in Egypt. His righteous
mother raised him up, after his father’s death, along with his six siblings.
God has rewarded his mother for her well-upbringing of her children by
sending to her His angels and chose Bishoy to become a servant for Him for
the rest of his life.
In 340 A.D., when Bishoy was 20 years old, he went to the “Isqiet” wilderness
and became a student of Saint Bimwa, who was a student of Saint Abu Makar the
great. Over there, Bishoy became a spiritual friend of the saint who was
famous for obedience, St. Yuhanis the dwarf—who planted a dry stick in
obedience of his teacher Saint Bimwa and it grew and became a fruitful tree
through the blessing of his obedience.
When Saint Bimwa departed, God’s Angel appeared to Saint Bishoy and informed
him that God wants him to live in solitude in the neighboring region, east
of Saint Yuhanis’ place, because he will become a father and guidance to
Saint Bishoy obeyed and lived in a cave (still exists to date in the famous
Saint Mary’s monastery in El-Surian). For the strength of Saint Bishoy’s
love of our Good Savior, he wanted to continue his conversation with God
throughout prayer as long as possible so he used to tie his hair with a rope
attached to the ceiling of his cave to wake him up if he fell asleep so that
he continues his prayer to his beloved. And for that reason, he was called
“the Beloved by our Good Savior.”
Also, because of how much he liked prayer and meditation for God, he used to
forget to eat the earthly food for many days, sustaining himself with the
spiritual food of prayer, meditation, and reading the living word of God.
Every person he got to meet used to get filled with peace, happiness, and
assurance and went away content. As a result, he had a following of 2400
people who lived the life of continuous happiness under his guidance, and
they lived in scattered caves in the mountain. They also used to gather
around Saint Bishoy “like bees surrounding honey” as some of the old
God’s promise to Saint Bishoy was fulfilled when He appeared to him when he
first started living in his cavern, that “the entire mountain will be filled
with worshipers under his guidance.”
Saint Bishoy was an energetic worker who ate from the work of his own
hands. He once said to his disciples “I did not eat food provided by any
person… my children, work with your hands to sustain yourselves and to
make enough to give to charity as well.”
It is also mentioned about his defense of the faith when he saved one of
the teachers from a religious heresy without harming his feelings using a
simple, wise way. He won him and won all of his following as well.
He was not just pleasant, humble, emotionally sensitive, and sensitive to
others’ feelings, but also he used to respect everyone’s humanity and his
loving heart always listened to the poor and needy. For that, he was called
“the Perfect, Righteous Man.” (al-ragol al-bar al-kamil).
With a humble heart, he used to carry all the trouble of his disciples and
their weaknesses, while fasting so that he will lead them to the life of
strive. He used to pray intermittently so that God will keep his disciples’
souls in the faith.
Because of his humbleness, he used to wash the feet of strangers and visitors
without knowing who they are or even looking at their face. For that reason,
Jesus appeared to him posing as a stranger (the same way he appeared to
Abraham in the Old Testament) and Saint Bishoy washed His holy feet and he
did not know Him until he saw the scars of the crucifixion on His feet.
And this is the distinctive picture of Saint Bishoy’s monastery, and it does
not only show the humbleness and the loving of the monks for all people, but
also to show that meekness and honest love make God very close to us.
Because of the sympathy of Saint Bishoy’s heart, he carried an old man in
the road and later he found that He was the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus then
promised him that his body whom he kept pure and served through it all the
people and the needy, and controlled it by spiritual exercises, will stay
without decay because it carried Him.
And, indeed, Saint Bishoy’s body is still without decay to date, and without
being preserved chemically in any way or mummified.
It was also mentioned about him that he did not hurt the feelings of a
person who was talking during one of Saint Bishoy’s sermons, and when that
person saw the capacity of Saint Bishoy’s good heart he stopped talking and
Saint Bishoy was also spiritually detached from money and materialistic
things. He refused what one of the rich people brought to him one day of
gold and silver (since God informed him of this devil’s trick who wanted to
keep him away from worship). So Saint Bishoy advised the rich man to return
with his gold and silver and distribute it amongst the poor and the needy to
win God’s blessing for him. When the rich man left him and Saint Bishoy
returned back to his cubicle, the devil cried at him saying: “Oh,
you!… you always ruin my tricks with your modesty” So Saint Bishoy
answered him in meekness and vulnerability saying: “Since you fell, oh
devil and God spoils all your tricks against His children.”
Saint Bishoy loved his spiritual children and interacted with them as a
loving father. He used to cry for his sins like Armia the prophet to the
point he was called Saint Bishoy the Armenian (Bishoy El-Army). He kept
striving in prayer for one of his disciples who sinned until he came back
repenting to God.
Many times Jesus appeared to Saint Bishoy because of his great love for
Him. Saint Bishoy used to know many matters because of his prophetic
spirit. Through it, he knew the coming of Saint Ifram the Syrian from Syria
before he actually came to visit him when he heard about his great
Saint Bishoy asked God to give him a Syrian tongue so that he will be
able to speak with the Syrian guest, and so it was granted to him.
When the Berber attacked the wilderness in 407 A.D., Saint Bishoy did not
want to stay at the monastery so that one of the Berber will not kill him
and therefore the Berberine will lose his soul for it. So Saint Bishoy went
to Upper Egypt, Ansena, and befriended Saint Boula El-Tammohie and
established a big monastery that still exists to date.
On July 15, 417 A.D., Saint Bishoy departed and was buried with his
spiritual friend, the meek Saint Boula (currently Mallawie). Then, Pope
Yusab I, the 52nd Patriarch 830-849 A.D., moved Saint Bishoy’s pure body to
its monastery at Wadi El-Natroun on December 13th 841 A.D., Kiahk 4th 557
A.M., after building its huge walls.
On the feast of Saint Bishoy’s departure on July 15 (8 Abib) of each year,
H.H.H. Pope Shenouda the 3rd makes sure to lead the celebrations in honor of
the great Saint and to join the monks of the monastery in their joy for the
feast of their intercessor. H.H.H., along with Anba Sarabamon, the
monastery’s Bishop, carry out the preparation of the herbs and “henout” to
scent the pure body in the midst of prayers, chants, and hymns of thousands
of visitors who pilgrim to the monastery over a period of 10 days (July
5-15) to join in the joy of celebration and to receive the blessing and
intercession of the great saint.
The monastery has prepared guest houses to accommodate the guests and
visitors. They are equipped with what is needed for their rest during the
celebration period until the return back joyous, full of spiritual
blessings and the benefits of the intercession of the great Saint Bishoy.